> > It seems that most people who think gun control laws deter crime also
> > believe the death penalty doesn't.  Can anyone explain this?
> At least they are half right.  :-)
> Wrongful convictions and incompetent attorneys aside, IMO the perpetrater
> that commits a crime that warrants considering them to be a danger to
> society doesn't really have a sense of personal responsibility or
> consequences.  (I could elaborate on that)  They simply don't *think* they
> will be caught or are beyond caring whether the consequences are life in
> prison or the electric chair.  It could even be argued, for people like
> Timothy McVeigh, martyrdom could be an incentive for the behavior.
First, let's get McVeigh out of the way.  He was a political revolutionary
(albeit an unsuccessful one), not a common criminal.  Such men are atypical
of killers in the developed world.  Most criminals have no desire to be a
martyr, and in the event of their death, would not be viewed by others or
probably even themselves as martyrs.

Does the death penalty restrain would-be murderers? In the case of impulsive
killers, the kind who get mad and kill a family member or acquaintance, the
death penalty does not seem to be a deterrent, or else the deterrent effect
wears off about 2 weeks after the last publicized execution.  However, those
states that abolished the death penalty did see an increase in murders
following the end of capital punishment.  That increase did not occur among
impulsive killers who murdered someone they knew.  The increase in murders
occurred in  the killing of strangers who were present during crimes.  With
no death penalty, common criminals have become more willing in those states
to whack the witnesses.  In one way it is especially unfortunate that the
increase in murders following the end of the death penalty was concentrated
in the category of stranger-murders, because these kinds of murders usually
remain unsolved.

One possible lesson:  if you're going to kill someone, don't kill someone
you know; you'll probably get caught.  Kill a stranger, and you'll probably
escape justice, at least in this life.  And if you do get caught, at least
you won't get the death penalty if you live in some "morally superior" state
like New York.  Even your typical criminal with an IQ in the low normal
range has enough foresight to understand this much.

I wonder whether we could abolish the death penalty without losing the
deterrent effect if we replaced the death penalty with a sufficiently harsh
alternative--mutilation.  In the East Roman empire, blinding was often used
as a more merciful substitute for the death penalty.  I suppose the thinking
was that it gave the culprit time to repent of his sins and possibly save
his soul.  Unfortunately, a sufficiently savage alternative to the death
penalty would be struck down in the US as "cruel and unusual" so I guess
we'll have to stick with the death penalty if we want to deter the murder of
witnesses, to say nothing of appeasing man's intuitive sense of retributive
justice.  Frankly, with the laxity in some states, I'm surprised their
aren't a lot more private executions of these killers once they get out of
the pen.  Perhaps the sense of familial loyalty and obligation just isn't as
strong in western cultures as it is in many others.  I'm especially amazed
that OJ is still alive.

~Alypius Skinner

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